Our ten month escape from routine, with four suitcases, two kids and big dreams.
Saturday, 16 March 2013
14/03/13. Flying into Lima is quite a surreal experience. Vast coastal mountain ranges of dry dull arid sand. Not a living thing to be seen. Not even something grey and dead to suggest the possibility of life. A smattering of low lying grey buildings start to appear and quickly gather others to them as a smattering becomes clumps which become small masses which quickly becomes a city.
Dry as a dead dingo's...
Lima is the Peruvian capital and has a population of nine million in a country of thirty million. Peru is a little over 1.2 million square kms and divided into three areas. The dry coastal area, 10%, which we're flying over now, the mountain ranges which is 30% and the Amazon which accounts for 60% of the country. The reason for the mountainous coastal sand pits is that the average annual rainfall on the southern coastal plains is a miserable one to three cms per annum. The inland districts fare a little better and can receive up to 6cm per annum with the coastal areas further north getting up to fifteen centimetres. With the heavens supplying as good as nothing the entire water supply for Lima and surrounding areas is supplied by three rivers that run from the Andes. This is a land of extreme contrasts, geographically and climatically. Rainfall east of the Andes can be over 1300 centimetres per annum.
We were met at the airport by our new guide, Mario, and taken to the hotel Jose Antonio. Time to settle and think about what to do for the next day and a half before we fly out to Iquitos. Christina and I did some scouting and found "The Chefs Cafe". Peruvians, like their Chilean neighbours, love a good sandwich and as we discovered, they do them well. We loved the place that much we took the boys back there for dinner and of course to road test their Pisco Sours which get two thumbs up. Cold, frothy and packing a rabbit punch.
15/03/13; Our hotel is in the district of Miraflores, one of the safer and more '"upmarket" areas of Lima. You can tell this by the lack of electric fences and spiked gates surrounding the local houses. The contrast was made very clear when we decided to take a city bus tour and passed through some of the outer layers of the city. When your time is limited these tours are the best way for feeling the pulse of a city. We were told the numbers were going to be small, only around a dozen people. Normally we would do a private tour because of the greater flexibility and the fact that the price difference is not that much more, but Mario convinced us to do this one. The dozen people turned out to be over fourty and too late to back out we found ourselves in a cattle drive on a big Greyhound. Never again. Too rushed, too crushed. Everyone jostles to get down the front near the guide. His english was adequate but thickly coated in a Spanish accent so it demands your full attention or you get half an explanation which is as good as getting nothing at all. You move at the guides pace, not yours. There's no lingering over anything beautiful or interesting because if you lose sight of his big green flag on a stick you'll get left behind and suddenly your stuck in the middle of nowhere paying for a cab to get back to somewhere. Then Betty from Alabama, needs a toilet break so everyone waits for fifteen minutes while she goes and changes her adult diaper then off we go again. Nope, no more cattle runs for us.
Rollin, rollil rollin, get them doggies movin.... Rawhiiide
Having said all that, as Callum reminded me when I was whinging to him, "at least we got to see some cool sights from a comfy bus and got to stop and walk around some interesting places." Right again Cal.
The drive out to the old part of town was typical Peruvian suburbia with lots of square houses with flat roofs. It's interesting, here as in Chile, there is not a lot of diversification in the suburban architecture. Externally, they are all very similar. No eaves, no downpipes, no rain, no need. A coat of paint and the facade adornments are all there are to tell them apart. The U.S State Department rates the crime rate in Peru as high, particularly in certain areas so the hot fences and the medieval spikes seem like a necessity. You leave all that behind as you get further into the old part of town and the spirit and history of the place starts to shape a new perspective. There is a rich and colourful architectural theme to the old part of town. Arabic, French, Spanish and Greco Roman influences abound in some beautiful and intriguing buildings. Gustav Eiffel designed their Art Museum, the Presidential Palace is grand and imposing and they have a 60,000 seat sports arena which was built in the late 1950's and is undergoing renovations. The Plaza Mayor de Lima is the epicentre where the Presidents Palace, The Municipal Palace and the Basilica Cathedral surround some beautiful gardens.
The Inglesia de La Merced, beautiful gardens
400 year old black bronze fountain in The Plaza de Armes
The Presidents Palace
The Basilica Cathedral where the Remains of Fransisco Pizzaro lay
Just around the corner is where the impressive Monestrio San Francisco is located. The Monastery housed the Order of Saint Francis of Assissi's and is where you can view the Catacombs. The Catacombs are full of the skeletal remains of 6000 monks and a select few benefactors to the church. It was musty, ancient and spooky. A place worthy of much more than the rushed viewing we got. To help preserve the integrity of the art works the tour guide invited us to enjoy the many old and valuable paintings but that flash photography and video were not allowed. Fairly standard in any museum or art gallery. However it seems that while we are all required to relegate the images of our visit to memory to prolong their well being, the act of actually tapping on the painting with the pointy end of your flag to gain everyone's attention seemed perfectly acceptable to our erstwhile guide. Not once did he rap his stick on the bottom of a massive 500 year old painting, but twice. He must have been blind to have not seen the incredulous looks on all our faces. He didn't notice or he didn't care, either way we were quickly moved on.
The Church of St Francis and the Catacombs
In the 1940's the skeletons buried in the crypts were broken down and divided into, skulls, femurs etc resulting in a four metre deep pit of identical bones. Bizarre but according to the authorities of the time a big pit of countless skulls and bones would look better on the tourist brochures. So, in an effort to titilate the tourist, the skeletons of monks and revered citizens were dug up, pulled apart and stuck in big piles Not very respectful to the dead and I hope it has resulted in it's fair share of hauntings and hopefully some demonic possessions for those responsible.
When the tour ended we were given the option of being dropped off at various points along the route and we chose a fancy big shopping and restaurant precinct called Larcomar because it was right on the cliff tops overlooking the Pacific. The views were incredible, and the waves... For the whole two hours we were there the waves just kept rolling in. It was like there was a machine just over the horizon pumping out one after another after another. Every 100 to 200 metres there was a wave rolling in. Shoulder to head high, hundreds of metres of wide, breaking left and right and carrying at least 100 metres. And uncrowded. There would have been no more than twenty guys out. Beautiful to watch.
Wave after wave after wave after........
Fancy pants shopping and restaurants
We were going to go to the Parque de la Reserva to see the Magic Water Circus tonight. A spectacular laser show incorporating the most modern laser technology and thirteen magnificent fountains. One is a Guinness Book of Records holder for shooting an impressive 80 metres in the air. Unfortunately, the night we chose to go there was a soccer match on in the stadium which happens to be in the vicinity of the park. Taxi drivers refused to go near the stadium on such nights. Too busy and too dangerous. Mucho disappointo. So, our last night in Lima was spent at our local with traditional Peruvian hamburger and Chicha Morada, a delicious non alcoholic purple corn drink. Then home and pack for the Amazon.